When the Stormers take on the Bulls in the second week of the Rainbow Cup SA, the game will be a battle of the bodies in an expression of what South African rugby does best – bully the opposition, writes Oliver Keohane.
This is not to say that one of South Africa’s best derbies will not be a battle of the brains behind the two teams, because there is simple brilliance in planning around a team’s strength, and building from that. In the case of both the Stormers and the Bulls, their physical presence is the platform on which their game plans are allowed to play out.
The Stormers opened up the Rainbow Cup with a narrow 33-30 loss to the Sharks at home, in a physically demanding match that saw red cards, rucks and a hattrick from a lock; this should tell you enough about the nature of the game. The Bulls dominated the Lions 22-9 at Loftus to carry on their winning form of the last year.
Jake White has been particularly astute in sticking to the Bulls set piece strengths and potent pack of forwards, but he has also introduced a refined style of backline play and rebuilt the intelligent tactical kicking approach that characterised the best Bulls sides under Heyneke Meyer.
The Stormers have had more trouble successfully executing the same stylistic approach, and I wrote last week prior to the Sharks clash that this could be their downfall. However, when they do fire, John Dobson’s men boast a formidable front three, a talented pack – that finally includes Pieter-Steph Du Toit again, after the flanker returned to the field for a full 80-minute display last weekend and looked like he had never left – as well as individuals in the backline that have shown they are capable of magic.
I have a feeling that the Stormers will fire where they need to this weekend, because something about a Bulls derby means that they have to. But so will the Bulls, and the result will be a bruising affair, which the respective backlines will have to do their best to build off of.
I think that the Bulls will edge it, simply because they have a greater understanding of what they want to execute, and a greater capability to execute it than a Stormers side that on occasion looks a bit confused with ball in hand.
Maybe the Stormers will surprise me, but what won’t be a surprise is a game in which neither side, over the 80 minutes, will appear physically dominant or physically dominated. I’m excited for some great South African rugby come Saturday.